It’s not unusual for an artist to be inspired by his surroundings, but how he interprets them is what makes his work unique and special. St. George artist Gary Akers paints what he sees and paints how he sees it. Inspired by two environments, his summer home in our Maine community and his winter home where he grew up in Kentucky, Akers’ well-designed paintings reflect his intimate long-term relationship with both places. The artist has a wide national presence and is well-known. He has exhibited in the Speed Art Museum, the Frye Museum of Art, the Ogonquit Art Museum, the Asheville Art Museum, the National Academy of Design and many other notable venues.
Akers’ fascination with his surroundings began in his early youth when he constantly sketched and painted landscapes, objects, animals and anything that sparked his interest. His “Granny” once remarked of the young boy that “he wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t have art.” Additional family support came from his mother, a teacher in a two-room schoolhouse in Floyd County, Kentucky, who always encouraged the boy to draw and paint. Her talent in drawing fascinated Akers, and when he was 10 years old, she bought him a set of watercolors which set him on the path as a watercolorist for life.
Other family members also influenced the young Akers. His grandfather, a custom carpenter working out of his own shop, created an early desire in the aspiring artist to have his own private studio space one day. This single-minded goal to create art in his own space, eventually became a reality through strong will and hard work.
Although Akers took art classes in high school, they didn’t inform him. Undeterred from pursuing his goal, however, he sought further academic training after graduation in the early 1970s by enrolling in Morehead State College, Kentucky. Bucking the trend of that era toward abstract expressionism, Akers continued to create representational art. He took two years of drawing courses, which he loved and worked hard to master, and also studied watercolor painting. Continuing at Morehead into the graduate program, Akers found in the college library a book of Andrew Wyeth paintings in egg tempera. Although he had never used or seen the medium before, the graduate student was hooked and wanted to learn. Egg tempera paint is made by combining dried ground pigments with egg yolk and water, which becomes very durable after it cures for six months. It’s a difficult medium to use because it must be applied with small brushes in a layering process. Akers often applies as many as 40 layers to achieve remarkable effects in his paintings. Because his graduate work was an independent study, Akers had to learn about egg tempera on his own, so he tirelessly experimented to gain mastery.
Upon the completion of his Master’s degree in 1974, Akers was awarded the prestigious Greenshields Foundation Grant which supported a year of further work in egg tempera. That year was pivotal in helping the young man transition into a full-time career artist. Inducted into the group of 12 Kentucky Heritage Artists in 1976, Akers was selected to represent the state at numerous state parks to demonstrate his painting to the general public. This opportunity resulted in thousands of sales of limited-edition prints of his paintings and lots of publicity. At one time, over a hundred dealerships sold his prints. This established Akers as a full-time professional artist and set him up for a future in the arts.
Akers first came to Maine in 1976 under the Greenshields Foundation Grant, and found the St. George community through his friend Ann Wyeth McCoy. He was struck by the beauty of the peninsula and returned in the late 1980s to teach painting for the late Merle Donovan’s art workshops in Port Clyde. By 1987 he was exhibiting his paintings at the Ocean View Grange in Martinsville, where large crowds attended and his work sold out in only minutes. Encouraged by his success and our friendly community, Akers decided to settle in.
In 1990, Akers and his wife, Lyn Rita, also an artist, built their home on Rackliff Island here in St. George. Akers met Lyn Rita while in high school. Like the plot of a Hollywood romance movie, he was a basketball player and she was a cheerleader. Remaining together since high school days, both went on to study fine art at Morehead State College. They have a daughter, Ashley, who is also an artist and sold her first painting at age five. Ashley’s son, three-year-old Acelyn Grey, is now showing interest in drawing and painting as well. Beginning with Aker’s mother, this dynasty of artists spans four generations so far.
In 1995 the Akers purchased and restored The Green Schoolhouse located at 414 St. George Road in South Thomaston. The Schoolhouse serves as his summer gallery and opened July 4th to art patrons and viewers alike. On July 14th, Akers’ exhibition “The Moments of Splendor” opened and the first week in August marks a second joint exhibition of works by Akers, Lyn Rita, their daughter Ashley and her son Acelyn Grey. You may learn more about this remarkable artist on his website: http://www.garyakers.com. —Katharine Cartwright
PHOTO: Betsy Welch